Becoming a grandparent for the first time can be both exciting and terrifying.
Let’s start with the big announcement. Admit it, new parents-to-be have really stepped it up in how to share the news. Gone are the days of a quick phone call or visit. Some of the announcements and our reactions are, well here, grab a tissue and click here.
Pretty amazing, right? Last August, my daughter and son-in-law announced the impending birth of our first grandchild. After the initial shock, I can remember thinking that my husband and I don’t even look like grandparents. When I think about grandmas and grandpas, I think of kindly old folk, not us! We are kindly, but not old. We both have careers and are incredibly active. Outside of the flurry of thoughts and questions that were racing through my mind, the biggest one was what could we do to help?
My career has put me in a great spot to see what expecting couples really need.
I know our kids are well read, they have all the apps, they read all the blogs, have the latest books, and they are active on social media. They are, however, no different than we were when we started families….scared! They are questioning their every move since before they realized they were expecting – I had a glass of wine, is that okay? I am so tired, is that normal? Do I have what it takes to be a parent? Do we make enough money? Does childbirth hurt? Should I breastfeed?
Here is the best thing you can do: Listen. Really, really listen.
Other helpful tips for grandparents
Ask questions! Try ones that will provoke more than a simple yes or no answer. For example, instead of asking, “How are you feeling?” try, “Gosh you must be so tired. With your baby doing all that growing, she’s stealing all your energy. Would it help if I walked your dog for you so you can take a nap?” Here, you are acknowledging she is tired and that it’s normal because the baby is growing and using a lot of her energy. Then, you offer a solution to help.
Eating is another issue many expectant moms might be struggling with. It may be that she cannot keep anything down, or what she used to love is making her feel sick or just does not interest her anymore. Try to help her find what she enjoys and supply her with that. Her favorite meal before becoming pregnant may have been chicken parmesan, but now just thinking about it makes her queasy. She may request a cup of tea and toast, and you will be her savior for making it. Try not to offer unsolicited eating advice. Believe me, she is getting a ton of unsolicited advice from more people than you realize, whether they have the background to be providing it or not. Let her know that morning sickness does not happen just in the morning, it can happen all day long. And, if she is really having a hard time holding food down, she should call her care provider.
Childbirth. The thought of giving birth can be scary. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. Especially since everyone has a horror story to tell about birth that they feel they must share with expecting parents. It does not have to be scary, though. Offer to sign her and her partner up for a childbirth class. Education is power. A full understanding of the process and what part she and her partner can play in the process will make it a lot less intimidating. The key will be reading the different types of classes offered and which fits in best with her style. Remember, there is no wrong way to birth. What she finds comforting is what matters. Finally, let her know if childbirth was that horrible, we would all be only children. Some of us go on to do it multiple times!
Consider gifting her a doula. A doula is like the fairy godmother of birth. Her role is to support the expectant couple: physically, emotionally, informationally, and more, but plays absolutely no medical role. A doula should provide non-judgmental support. Have the expecting parents set up interviews with a few different doulas so they can find the one they best “click” with. Click here for a helpful resource.
Breastfeeding, though natural, can also be a cause for stress. To help, start out with the basics; tell her that breastfeeding is like tying your shoes. None of us were great at it when we were first learning, and every time someone else showed us what to do, it was different from what the person before them demonstrated. However, what happened was, we kept practicing, and eventually it all fell into place. Now, most of us can tie our shoes without even looking. With breastfeeding, you have two people learning how to do it together. It’s going to take time and practice. There will be different opinions and different methods. Encourage her to take the time to find out what works for them and just do that – practice, practice, practice; patience, patience, patience. Consider helping her find a breastfeeding class to learn the basics. Knowledge is power!
Most families require a breast pump during their breastfeeding journey. The good news is most insurance plans cover a breast pump. However, the breast pump is not the only thing she may need. There will be breast milk storage bags, pumping accessories, a pump bag, and more. Reach out to Acelleron to see what’s available to help her meet her breastfeeding goals.
Babywearing. One thing that younger generations seem to be in tune with is baby wearing. What they may not realize is picking a baby carrier is as different as picking a car. What one mom likes might be different than what her partner is comfortable with, and every person carries babies differently. There are many baby wearing classes that have different carriers to try. Offer to sign her up and buy her the carrier of her choice. They make a wonderful shower gift from grandparents!
These tips are just a start. Who knows your kids better than you? Listen to their needs and respond accordingly. Lastly, enjoy. There is something to be said about grandparenthood – all the fun, all the spoiling, and then you send them home with their parents, and you get a good night’s sleep! Congratulations!
Written by Jan Ferraro, Director of Education and Certified Lactation Counselor at Acelleron. Jan has been a childbirth, breastfeeding, and parenting educator for more than 25 years.